A free speech safeguard has been introduced into a new anti-terror Bill, following widespread concerns that Christian Unions and other university societies could face censorship.
Under the draft guidance for the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, university societies would be forced to hand over presentations to be vetted.
However, late last night the Government introduced an amendment which requires universities to give “particular regard” to freedom of speech when fulfilling their duty to combat terrorism.
It has also committed to rework a paragraph in the guidance which was at the centre of the controversy. The revised guidance will need Parliamentary approval before it can be implemented.
The Christian Institute welcomed the climbdown while noting that a “close watch” on the guidance was needed ahead of it being finalised.
It said: “Thank you to all our supporters who prayed about this important matter and responded to the consultation.”
The Institute urged supporters to: “Thank God for this new development and continue to pray that the promised changes to the guidance provide additional safeguards to religious liberty and free speech.”
Under the Bill, certain bodies are compelled to try and stop people being “drawn into terrorism”.
Draft guidance for the Bill says universities and further education colleges must “take seriously their responsibility to exclude those promoting extremist views that support or are conducive to terrorism”.
However, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights raised concerns that the “legal uncertainty” surrounding the definition of an ‘extremist’ would hinder academic debate.
Earlier this week over 500 university professors signed a letter that described the proposals as “both unnecessary and ill-conceived”.
The letter noted that critical thinking among staff and students was one of the purposes of university education, and that campuses are “centres for debate and open discussion”, where contentious ideas can be “put forward in the spirit of academic endeavour”.
“Draconian crackdowns on the rights of academics and students will not achieve the ends the government says it seeks”, it concluded.